The Value of a Good Question

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By Kirk McCarley

Kirk Mccarley

It was a two hour exam. As he thoughtfully sought the best words in response to the questions, a glance at the clock reminded him that it was now 2:45. Only 15 minutes remained until the bluebook must be submitted. The proctor overseeing the process reminded students of the time. “You will recall that those failing to complete the exam in the allotted time period and not returning it to my desk promptly by 3:00 will automatically receive a zero,” he said.

As the clock reached the 2:55 mark, only a handful of students remained in the lecture hall. Fighting fluster, he composed himself for his final thought, and walked his exam up front just as the monitor called time with a hint of condescension.

Preparing to place his bluebook on the desk, the futility of his effort was mocked with a sassy, “You understand that your grade is a zero,” advised the monitor.

Momentarily defeated and frustrated, the young man gained enough composure to ask the question, “Sir, do you not know who I am?”

The proctor snapped back, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” At that the student stared back, simultaneously grabbed the entire stack of bluebooks off the desk, thrust them towards the ceiling, and strode out of the lecture hall muttering, “That’s what I thought.”

Many answers are easily found. Years ago, there was a World Book Encyclopedia or a parent to ask. Today, it’s most often a Google search. It’s not surprising that the answers to the ultimate smart person game show, Jeopardy, come in the form of a question.

Good sales people are gifted with the best questions. They are consistently open-ended (eliciting more than a yes/no response), thought provoking, and customer centric. They may track along these lines:

  • May I ask you some questions about your business?
  • You specialize in X. Why did you choose that niche?
  • What are your goals for the next three, six, and 12 months?
  • How does your company evaluate new products and services before buying?
  • Tell me about your average day. How would this product solution impact your daily work?
  • What’s holding your team back from reaching your goals?
  • Who else do you think I should speak with?

Another selling proposition is the job interview. Certainly the value of preparation and knowing the best response should not be diminished. In many years of conducting interviews, however, the number of applicants who presented no questions about the job, work conditions, or organizational goals was astonishing.

Conversely, the most impressive applicants would go so far as to artfully turn the interview around and they would express an interest:

  • What have you liked best about working here?
  • If I were to be offered a job here and accepted, what are three things that you feel would lead to my success as an employee?
  • What do you and this organization value?
  • What are some ways that this company invests in employee development?

If they were that mindful to connect, how effective might they be with a customer? More often than not, they got the job.

My dad, Tex, started college when he was 69.  Forever seeking knowledge he rarely turned down an opportunity to talk to someone, even a total stranger, who might share a bit of history, information, or an anecdote. I know where to blame my curiosity. What about you?

A graduate of the University of North Texas, Kirk McCarley is a Certified Professional Coach as well as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and SHRM-CP Certified. He also is a Production Assistant for both college football and basketball for ESPN and leads group cycling classes as a Certified Spinning instructor. Contact,, or call  314-677-8779.

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